Archive | July, 2011

Better Than the Next Guy

20 Jul

As usual, in the following post I fell into that Ann Landers voice that I do so frequently, as if you stopped by so I could talk down to you about the ills of the world and how you should handle your relationships.  But actually, I wrote it all as a SELF-INDICTMENT and a dialogue with myself trying to figure out what MY response should be to some things that I’m trying to process that, while they don’t affect me directly, do leave me thinking hard about a lot of things.  Have you ever had one of those care-worn days where the problems are not even your own?  Yeah.

It’s really easy to get uppity about other people’s lives–surprisingly so.  For one thing, generally speaking, people tend to give a lot to feel superior to.  For another thing, one tends to be forgetful and blind about one’s own life to the extent that the mental acrobatics blow the mind.  These two facts are a deadly combination.

C.S. Lewis says in several places that the devil is quite content to see us delivered from committing a whole host of sins, if instead he can get us with the sin of pride.  A lot of people won’t even suspect what they’ve fallen into if they bypass the temptation to lust, drunkenness, or greed by telling themselves that they’re somehow above all that.  And isn’t it as common as a cold to hear a lovelorn girl encouraged with the well-meaning and, actually, pretty effectual statement, “Oh, you were too good for him anyway.  He doesn’t know what he’s missing”?  A pastime I personally enjoy greatly is to find someone who’s, objectively speaking, messing up their lives, so that I can compare myself favorably and sum up with a hearty, “Well, at least I’m not that bad!”

Sometimes it seems as if one hears about all the bad things going on in the world all in one day: that behind the pretty, manicured lawns, in between taking the kids to soccer practice and dropping them off at their friends’ houses, families are ripping each other to pieces, shanking in the back the people that they swore in front of God and everybody to love, or the ones they brought into the world, or the ones that brought them into the world.  That injustice is going on, not somewhere out there,  but down at your courthouse and at your city hall and across the street at your neighbors’ house.  That people bear false witness regularly and get away with it.  That more people that you work with, go to school with, pass on the street, and yes, God forgive us, even go to church with have addictions to serious things than you could have ever fathomed.  That crime has its tentacles in the land you love so deeply that it’s hard to imagine how they could ever be gotten out.  That mental illness is real and prevalent and doesn’t wear a hazard label to point itself out.  And that the general attitude to all of these things and the things that lead to them is blasé.

I’m thinking 3 things in response to this:


How can the tide of these things ever be turned back at this point?  Maybe a magical past where these cancers (societal and literal) were rare is simply a fiction, though I doubt it.  It seems like an impossible situation, and as more and more families get infected by these problems–ones that truly span to the third and fourth generations–it’s hard to see how such suffering won’t become even more common.  But while with man, something may not be possible, with God, all things are possible.

If you’ve ever read a medical dictionary, you will be familiar with what I’m feeling right now.  They are enlightening chronicles of just how many things can go wrong with a body.  There are diseases you’ve never even conceived of!  And yet, most of us don’t have them, and actually, people recover from disease every day, all the time.  A skinned knee doesn’t stay that way for long.  It regenerates itself–IT MAKES NEW BODY PARTS, however small.  When you are attacked with a cold or stomach virus, it’s almost a given that you won’t die from it.  Your body mobilizes incredible resources and keeps things in check.  And the more body processes you’re aware of, the more amazing it seems that they almost all go off without a hitch.  To me, it seems nearly impossible that such common, widespread, systemic evil could be healed, but I guess the point is, can’t you make the argument that healing is always miraculous?  The world that Jesus came into in 1 A.D. or so: could it have been that much better than the problems we face today?  A world where death was cruel, painful, and a common sight; women had it rough; slavery was not even questioned; being orphaned from violence or starvation was a bigger threat to the family than divorce; mob justice prevailed; and values like turning the other cheek or helping others with no personal advantage had not really come into vogue yet–and that’s the civilized Roman Empire.  And in that world, God established his Church, where the movement of radical love lit it on fire.

2. Pride goeth before the fall.

My first reaction to things of this nature that I hear is genuine shock and abhorrence, not of the people, but of what’s going on.  About a quarter of a second later enters the stupid idea that I’m somehow better than what I’m hearing about–or at least better currently–or at least, well, even if I do it, at least I know better.  Or whatever it takes to make me feel good, according to the circumstances.  And immediately, all wrapped up in one tight little jelly roll with my (perhaps) righteous indignation and my (maybe) natural horror of wrong-doing is another factor that has to do very little with my concern for those people, for the world or for offense to God and a whole lot to do with my image of myself–in short, my pride.

Does this make sense?  NO!!  I have at one point or another been guilty of precisely 60% of the things I turn my nose up at.  Am I really sure I want to play the judgment card???

I am frequently a participant by omission in many of the wrongs.  Am I willing to help, to be a good neighbor, a peacemaker, to set a good example, to put my money into things that matter, someone willing to listen and give wise advise, someone willing to share Christ’s forgiveness and his road map for life with other people?  Pretty imperfectly.

Does it matter if the next guy is really messing up compared to me?  NO!!  Not any more than it matters if my wrong answer to the math problem was one number closer to right than your wrong one.  No use consoling myself with that: WE’RE BOTH WRONG.  What am I thinking trying to use what everyone else does as my yardstick when I’m accountable to an unchanging, absolute standard?  What I do that falls short is between me and God.  A lot of people like to say that to get others off their backs about a moral question; I mean it as “Uh-oh, it’s between me and GOD.”  He knows when I’ve fallen short, and He doesn’t take “but so-and-so did worse” as an excuse any more than I do from Mustard Seed.

3.  Practically speaking…

…what’s my right reaction to things that really are abhorrent, especially if it’s the kind of thing that I’m in a position to say something about?  First, proceed with caution by speaking the truth in love  and lovingly and by checking myself for pride.  Try to think of times I’ve behaved similarly and been forgiven.

Second, pray, pray, pray.  Instead of ranting about it with friends, pray!  Pray on my own and with friends.  Ask for God’s will to be done in the situation, rather than giving him a laundry list of what I think is wrong–the diagnosis–followed by my suggested treatment.  Prayer is not only an alternative to worry, not only a dialogue to bring us closer to God in the details of life.  It’s an effectual way to address problems.  Ora et labora.  Working (taking action) and praying: they are two sides of the same coin, and the Bible actually talks about praying way more than about taking action, as far as I know.

Third, I can focus on my spheres of influence–what I have the most direct control over–and be willing to do something about that.  (When you’re nose is down on the grindstone, it’s pretty hard to hold it high up in the air.)

  • How can I love somebody in my life?  Maybe by making sure I’m filling up my kids’ “tanks” as they grow, by doing extra nice things for my spouse whether the going is great or the thought of taking one step in kindness turns my stomach.
  • Am I willing to offer peacemaking advice, to forgo giving barbs, stop discussing problems idly, and to glory in mercy more than justice at a personal level?
  • How can I sacrifice for someone and give up that last bastion of selfishness?  Would I give up my hobby?  my ideas of the way things should be done?  my prestige?  my desire to feel young/important/free/wanted/thrilled/smart?
  • Can I set a good example (without being self-righteous!) by  leading a sober life in all senses of the word?  Being honest despite it costing me?  Being faithful? Focusing on serving rather than getting?

Can I???  Well, as we said at Mustard Seed’s baptism a few weeks ago, “I will, with God’s help.”


Summer Progress Report & Sweet Potato Hash Recipe

18 Jul

When up late working on a translation job, I usually opt for quickie power food like Honey Bunches of Oats au lait.  While the diet has not yet recovered from the month of culinary good times with the in-laws, tonight I’m treating myself to something infinitely yummier and healthier: my favorite Southwestern Sweet Potato Hash.   And while those taters sizzle away on the stove, my thoughts are turning to summer goals, some of which are serious, get-some-dirt-under-my-fingernails goals and others of which are what summer goals should be: the aspiration to do enjoyable, relaxing, out-of-the-ordinary things.

I’m pretty serious about these things, and the good Lord knows I love a plan, so long before summer was here, I had made a list.  Lest that list stay buried in one of my many spiral notebooks that floats about the house, I am replicating it here, for documentation, accountability, and safekeeping, not to mention that I would very much like to hear what pressing items of leisure are on your agenda.  So with no further ado, I give you The Summer List.  And if you want the recipe for the sweet potatoes, srolly-scroll-scroll to the end!

😦 Go to the pool a lot.  We have slacked off about this, but will resume tomorrow.

Vacation Bible School. 

Pioneer day camp (August)

Prepare everything for homeschool next year.  I’m on it.  But it’s going to take a while.

😦 Read up on the classics.  I’m not really reading anything classic right now, but I just finished Half Broke Horses the other day, read To Hell with All That a few weeks ago, and am in the middle of Obama Nation (thank you, 99 Cent Store!) and The Trumpeter of Krakow, which will be for school this coming year.  I can’t for the life of me seem to be able to finish  Pilgrim’s Regress, and my copy of the Aeneid has stayed pathetically bookmarked in the same place for about 4 months.   Meanwhile my list of books I want to read, classics and otherwise, grows daily, and now that I’ve figured out how to note every book I ever hear of using the Memo function on my phone, this tendency will only get worse.

√? Book club on medieval and Renaissance literature.  Well, you don’t have to actually read to meet, right?  We started on St. Augustine’s City of God about a month ago, and I made it through about 40 pages of 900 (that thing is long!), and we met to discuss it.  I had marked mine up with all kinds of comments in Word but didn’t take my laptop to the meeting on account of it’s not really portable anymore ever since the battery finally gave up the ghost.  So we solved one of the philosophical dilemmas the book brings up, and then pretty much giggled like middle school girls for the next two hours.  There was talk of reading one of Shakespeare’s histories, but I have not started on that yet, and we haven’t met in a month due to all the hubbub, but I’m sure now things will even out.

Sew.  Yes.  I made Mustard Seed’s baptism dress, which was no small feat, but I had expert help from a very kind professional seamstress.  I haven’t made the summer pajamas Mustard Seed so badly needs, but I did manage to make a sarong (easy!) and two skirts with matching headbands for my nieces while they were here.  I also really want to try making one of those maxi sundresses (like the look, hate the name) or some of the breezy, simple blouses I see everyone wearing.  They look like such a cinch that you shouldn’t even need a pattern!

😦 Make handmade Christmas presents.  Haven’t even wrapped my brain around this one.

Deep cleaning and organizing of the house.  This sort of happened as a result of company coming, but has now been undone to a large extent, so more could always be done.

😦 Work full-time for a month.

Decorate the house.  We did some of this already, including an abstract masterpiece by the Headmaster that now hangs in our living room.  The main issue right now is more functional, since the tracks on my dresser drawers have fallen out and now I can’t open them.  The Headmaster really wants to get that and a cushioned fabric headboard taken care of when the budget allows.

Make popsicles.

😦 Make yogurt.

😦Make bread.

😦 Start a garden.  I’m not sure if this will happen right away, as there seem to be quite a few things to be decided upon–border, size, whether or not we will try to level out a slope in that area of the backyard–before I can proceed.

Attend the Shakespeare Festival. (August)

Participate in choir.  Doing it, sort of.  Actually, I just sang with them for the first time, although I’d been to two practices.  I’ve always admired how great they sound, so I was really nervous, but one really nice member has taken me under her wing, and I didn’t trip in front of the altar, so I’m gonna call that a success.

Get more involved at church.  See above and VBS.  I’m working on whether there are any other ways I can do this as well.

😦 Make kids’ meals and do other service projects.

😦 Work on badges for American Heritage Girls.

😦 Let Mustard Seed paint.

Slip-n-slide in the yard.

😦 Tons of play dates.  I’m on it.

Use all the crafts Mustard Seed has in her closet.

😦 Exercise

😦 Play board games


Southwest Sweet Potato Hash

*Please beware I write recipes descriptively, not quantitatively!

Peel and dice a sweet potato.

Cut the corn off 1 cob.

Dice or cut very small strips of red bell pepper.

Melt butter or heat olive oil in a skillet and then toss all of the above in.

Season it with salt, pepper, minced garlic or garlic powder (not garlic salt!), cumin, and chili powder (not cayenne pepper).

Cover and cook about 10 minutes or until the sweet potato is soft.  You can even let it blacken a little if you like that kind of thing.  I do!

During the last 2-3 minutes, toss in some cilantro leaves and some black beans.  You could go with canned but it’s healthier if you use fresh, so plan to make this within a few days of making a steaming pot of black beans, if you want to go that route.  Give the cilantro just enough time to release its flavors, but not to get wilty and for the black beans to warm.

Serve it with warm wheat tortillas and maybe some salsa on it or guacamole as a side dish.  It’s actually one of my favorite breakfast foods!

Summer Checklist

11 Jul

I had visions of this summer being a time to relax and slow down, which of course, in my mind, would leave me free to do all kinds of things, thus immediately mentally filling up the days once again.

(Did you see the logic I used there?  It’s really quite…something.  And believe me, it’s a party in my head like that all the time.)

Summer has been fun, but a lot has been going on so far.  We had VBS the first week of June, and then we were gearing up for a visit from family, although we did manage to squeeze in a trip to pick our own blueberries and to the farm for meat and other goodies.  The following week my mother-in-law got into town, but I was by then in a tizzy because I decided to make Mustard Seed’s baptism dress….the week before the baptism.  (I’m really just not learning about that procrastinating thing.  Or that taking too much on thing.)  Then more family came, and the baptism took place, dress and all.  It was followed by a week filled with lots of shopping and a 2-day trip to San Antonio with the folks.  We had a leaky pipe inside our wall that I had to take care of last week, and of course, I’m now thinking about the coming school year and so, starting to make all my weekly plans in an effort to be a little more prepared this year than I was last.

We have managed to do some of the things I envisioned, however.  Top on the list was make homemade popsicles.  Check!  And yes, they were good.

Next was, make sure Mustard Seed learns how to swim. Sort-of check!  She has made leaps and bounds with her swimming skills, although I still wouldn’t drop her off down by the river and say “See ya upstream!” or anything like that.  She is unbearably cute because she wiggles her bottom quite a bit as she tries to propel herself forward.  She keeps forgetting to put the arm motion together with the foot motion, but when she remembers, she’s golden.  She likes to raise her head straight back to breathe, which never really works out like she thinks it’s going to, but we’re working on that.  Her improvement is such that where last year, she wouldn’t even jump to me from the side in pretty shallow water, twice this summer I’ve let her swim in the deep end, albeit with me and the Headmaster right beside her.  I would have paid good money just to see her confidence level improve this much, so I’m pretty pleased.

I had thought we’d continue with a little bit of schooling, just to keep things fresh—math and whatnot.  On that, not-so-check.  We did manage to read a whole book about Queen Elizabeth I this weekend which is actually for the end of next year but which I was scoping out ahead of time.  And Mustard Seed is begging me to do Spelling because she knows that if she reaches a certain point, we will have a “science party”.  That’s what she asked for if she completed up to a certain point beyond her first grade goal, and I never would have dreamed she would latch on to that so vigorously!  I’m going to have to make much better use of incentive programs, seeing as how this one has worked out.  Just goes to show she is more goal-oriented than her mother.

So, I had a brief period last week where I was going to be a Doctor of Naturopathy.  I’m not sure if I’m over it yet or not, but the symptoms are at least significantly reduced.  It’s not quite so out of left field as it might sound.  When I was in college, I really wanted to go to complementary medicine school.  Of course that’s not surprising because in college, I really wanted to do about 300 different professions, and many of them simultaneously, including, to name a few, poet, English teacher, translator (funny how that worked out), social worker, sociologist, professor (of anything, really, mostly so I could smoke pipes and fake a British accent), Middle East talking head on CNN, lawyer, opera singer…

But then I thought,


Med School.

And that right there is how 90% of med school “candidates” get weeded out.  The mere thought just tires them out.

Of course, the idea of me going to any kind of med school right now is ridiculous on several levels, particularly the “Um, aren’t you supposed to be homeschooling your child?” level and the “Exactly which tree are we going to get the money to pay for that from?” level.  But maybe someday.  Maybe when I’m a grandmother I can be an N.D. instead of playing bingo.  Who knows.  It’s interesting because I’ve never been a particularly career-driven person (and might not pan out to be with a medical career either), so in some ways, staying home to homeschool is not such a sacrifice for me personally as it might be for some, but that was a little taste of what that might feel like.  For now, I will be content to learn what I need to know to help my family and myself be healthy and hopefully pass some of that information along.